John Day, 1948
The pleasure of travel books written between before memoirs became popular is the voice of the writer and the insights to living in the times. Tone has the pleasant quality of a friend who knows you’re along on the trip for a good time of talking to strangers, discovering a little history, and generally avoiding introspection.
Willard Price is an extraordinary travel guide on a tour where he
knows you didn’t buy a ticket to hear about his heartbreaks, career dramas, or parental guilts interspersed with wordy descriptions of sunsets. Over the course of one trip that took two years he and his wife traveled through Mexico, Central America, South America, and back up through the Amazon and into the Caribbean. The trip took place immediately after WWII when by today’s standards few traveled, and the luxury of the plane trips he took would have been exotic and sophisticated.
Current living conditions described a better portrait than my schoolbooks ever touched on. It’s only humorous that in the 1940s Price complains of Walgreen’s Drugstore taking over historic Mexico City real estate (Why did I think that was a new phenomenon?), but the book was a primer for politics and social issues we don’t hear about in the States.
There were the quirks like Panama’s way of drawing a color line between whites and Indian in public places by referring to the “Gold Only” which would be white and “Silver Only,” or all others. More educational were descriptions of several countries that supported Hitler’s philosophy. Chief fan at the time was President Peron of Argentina. The intrigue of Argentinean politics was placed within a country rich in education, food, and surety of racial superiority. The musical Evita will ever be changed for me, but Peron was a lightweight measured against the Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo who was nicknamed “Beautiful Murder” after having killed 12,000 people in one day.
The Americas is a continent of contrasts, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising to read about the social conditions of Argentina’s neighbor, Uruguay. Uruguay was made up primarily of Italian immigrants who were thriving under government terms of education paidfor all citizens through college, free medical care for everyone, no fathers allowed to skip financial or inheritance laws regardless of whether they married the mother or
not, and an eight hour workday for all!
Price was interesting enough in his geography, history, and present-day wrap-ups that halfway through the book I wondered if he and his wife were faring well. I decided to believe they were when after a cruise on the Amazon where pajamas were the only allowed daywear, they slept in hammocks, and were given only one meal a day of a little meat, and they did not complain.